Final Face-Off: UNC Downs Maryland in Instant Classic

This year’s men’s lacrosse national championship weekend was some of the best lacrosse that I’ve ever seen. From North Carolina’s annihilation of Loyola and Maryland’s overtime win against Brown in the semifinals to a nailbiter overtime finish in the championship game, there were plenty of memorable moments on the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia this weekend.

The weekend started off Saturday with North Carolina’s 18-13 win over Loyola. The Greyhounds clawed back from a nine-goal first half deficit, but Tar Heels sophomore attack Chris Cloutier’s record-breaking nine goals, compounded by the Tar Heels’ complete offensive dominance in the first half, sealed the Greyhounds’ fate. Cloutier’s nine goals were more than any player has recorded in an NCAA championship weekend game.

Maryland did not see as decisive a victory in the semis as North Carolina, but its patience on attack and the offensive prowess of duo junior attackmen Colin Heacock and Matt Rambo gave the Terps the edge in the overtime thriller. Rambo recorded a game-high five assists, including one to Heacock in overtime that resulted in the game winner. Heacock added an assist and three goals in the contest.

Monday’s championship game was another thriller; North Carolina opened up with an early 4-0 lead, but Maryland rallied to close the deficit by the end of the first quarter, and the remainder of the game was a back-and-forth battle to claim the lead.

Maryland first cut into the lead when junior attack Dylan Maltz intercepted North Carolina’s clear attempt right at the crease and put Maryland on the board.

Courtesy UMTERPS

The Terps largely controlled possession of the ball after recovering from the Tar Heels’ early lead, running a patient offense and capitalizing on its dominance at the X — freshman FOGO Austin Henningsen won 19-of-30 faceoffs for Maryland in the contest.

But what North Carolina lacked in possession time it made up for in a greater efficiency on offense. The Tar Heels scored 14 goals on 32 shots, compared to the Terps’ 13 goals on 38 shots, and six different players recorded assists for the Tar Heels. Cloutier lit up in the second half, scoring three consecutive goals in the third quarter. Maryland senior goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr struggled in the cage towards the end of the game, recording no saves in the final quarter, and North Carolina converted on three of five shots to tie up the game at 13-13 with 3:22 left.

In the final minutes of the game, the championship title seemed completely up for grabs. Several turnovers, loose balls and remarkable saves by both goalies created a mad scramble for a final goal to break the tie.

A North Carolina penalty in the remaining four seconds of regulation seemed to be the potential deciding factor of the game; Maryland got the ball back on its offensive end, and even if it couldn’t connect the dots in the final seconds of the quarter, it could run out the clock to get automatic possession in the beginning of sudden-death overtime.

Man down on defense with the national championship on the line, the Tar Heels made a huge stop on the Terps’ first possession of overtime and successfully cleared the ball; a Maryland penalty on the other end of the field turned the tables and put North Carolina man up on offense. After a patient possession, redshirt junior midfielder Michael Tagliaferri connected with Cloutier cutting towards the middle, and Cloutier shot the game winner — ending North Carolina’s 25-year drought without a championship title.

Maryland, on the other hand, now has to wait another year for another chance at the trophy. For the second straight year in a row, and for the fourth time in the last six seasons, the Terps are the runner up for the coveted championship title. But with powerhouses Heacock and Rambo returning for their final season and a shot at redemption looming in the distance, 2017 may be Maryland’s year.

Talent, athleticism and overtime excitement aside, one of the best parts of Monday’s game was that it perfectly exemplified what it has been like to watch college lacrosse over the past few years: On any given day, it’s anyone’s game.

North Carolina lost to Maryland earlier in the season in an 11-8 decision, when the Terps held the lead for the entire game and held the Tar Heels scoreless for over 16 minutes between the third and fourth quarters. Fast forward two months, and an unseeded team upended the top seed in the tournament for the championship trophy.

In the end, everything about championship weekend — the storylines, the comebacks and the overtime thrillers — marked a perfect ending to another unpredictable year of NCAA lacrosse.

Courtsey GOHEELS

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